What this Book is About
Spirituality and religion are regarded as being out of this world. The very reason many religions regard themselves as 'spiritual' is because they offer us access to worlds other than the physical dimensions we find ourselves in. Spirituality is commonly used as an antonym for materiality.
Yet there must be some commonality between our spiritual and material worlds for us to be able to imagine them at all. Access to such other-worlds permits us to extend our same earthly lives, lead lives of greater civility or comfort, consort with beings whose powers or intelligence exceed our own, or extend our powers beyond their earthly capabilities. Our spiritual worlds are not completely alien to us.
While it's not possible to test the veracity of their other-worldly offerings, the descriptions of this world by many religions have proved to be scientifically inadequate and this has aroused suspicion of their other-worldly claims. But do we need other-worlds to realize our spiritual ambitions? Could we not find all the splendour of our spiritual imaginations right here in our material world? I suggest that the spirituality we seek is a this-world rather than an other-worldly phenomenon.
Other-worldly spirits, minds and dimensions have been proffered as sources from which the material world has sprung. Regarding spirituality as a product of the material world bypasses the need for a spiritual source to reality. This is not to deny a metaphysical substrate to reality, only to say that it is not spiritual and is not necessary for an understanding of spirituality. We can simply take the material world for what it is and find spirituality in it.
Many teachings promote turning one's attention away from external reality in pursuit of an inner spiritual truth. By finding spirituality in the material world we can find that truth in our external world as well.
This approach also relieves spirituality of having to explain materiality and having to revise its precepts with every scientific revelation. It puts the task of explaining the origin and workings of the material world firmly in the lap of the rational sciences while leaving spirituality to be distilled from what science reveals. By 'distil' I don't mean that the spiritual enterprise follow the rational disciplines of the sciences, only that it be grounded on an empirical base. Science should be informing our spiritual imaginations, not only contesting them.
I did not aspire to this task. My original intention was to understand the extraordinariness of my experiences under LSD. Psychedelic drugs such as
LSD and psilocybin
offer us a unitary participation in the world astonishingly different to our usual participation as isolated individuals. Many have used the term 'spiritual' to describe this experience. But why is such a salutary experience always temporary? Why is it so far removed from our normal experience? Is it only a drug-induced illusion or does it have genuine epistemic value? The experience can be so real that many question their normal perception afterward.
In the face of a draconian prohibition, a formal investigation of psychedelics has been neglected. Intrepid explorers such as myself have cast about for anything that might throw light on the experience, from Jungian psychology to Eastern mysticism to shamanic practice to Bohmian quantum mechanics. In this book I offer a model arrived at after some 40 years of self-experimentation. I find it satisfactory because it appears coherent in my normal state of mind, corresponds with my perceptions under psychedelics and sits comfortably with my scientific training. I believe it to be relevant to the spiritual endeavour in general.
So how might such a physical model of spirituality be approached?
To start with I open up the idea of spirituality itself. Rather than restrict it to a traditional religious usage I invoke it as a catch-all for anything that influences us while remaining mysterious or beyond our control. We have no control over many of the material phenomena that affect us. The rotation of our planet vis-a-vis the sun absolutely dictates our daily rhythms, while the structure of our DNA is an important determinant of who and what we are. Dumb though these phenomena may be, their impact on us is unavoidable and beyond our control, so in this wider sense they are spirits we cannot but obey.
But are such spirits sentient? I suggest they can be, not necessarily in their mechanisms, but in the patterns they host. It's not just that their patterning may be beautiful or wondrous, but it can be meaningful. The patterning of sound, for example, physical as it is, carries meaning in so many ways: a baby's cry, an animal's grunt, bird calls, words, languages - so many of them - poetry and music; all affirming the variety of ways by which a physical patterning can carry meaning.
It is through the patterning of material reality that we express our own sentiences. The messages we communicate - words on a page, electronic data, signs or songs, a pat on the back, a shared laugh - all are patternings of the greater material medium. Our organs sense our environment through signals in the material medium and it is through manipulations of the material medium that we respond. The material world is a replete medium for meaning.
I suggest our spirits utilize the material medium to express their sentiences too. But whereas we express our sentiences at human scales, their expressions are not so limited. Their bandwidths in the material spectrum, as it were, can be much wider than our own. They might spin galaxies, or throw sub-atomic parties, while we play marbles. Let's also note that patterns can be dynamic, that they can change according to yet other patterns, which in turn can also be patterned, over and over again. Patterns at the extremes of such recursion often lie outside our bands of perception. Molecular biology has revealed staggering layers in the patterning of living organisms, all surpassing our normal bands of perception, while one has only to watch the intermingling of waves on a shallow beach to see how deep the patterning of nature can be. It is in the patterns beyond our normal perception that I see our spirits at play. As I see it, humans and spirits employ the same material medium, only our scales of utilization differ. I suspect psychedelic drugs shift our perceptions towards scales we don't normally frequent, prompting us to describe their experience as spiritual.
Now I notice two modes to the general patterning of things that make these scale sensitivities really stand out. In the mode I call architective, patterns reside in hierarchical levels, with higher level patterns overriding those below, while in the mode I call connective there are no levels of authority and patterns affect each other proportionally. These modes of patterning can be seen for example in the way armies organize in ranked levels while fish school without leaders. I will show that the architective, hierarchical mode is scale dependent while the connective mode is not, and that many of our spirits show proclivities for one mode or the other. We can glean information about our spirits from the modes of patterning they employ.
Spirituality is not the only area of our lives illuminated by these modes. They are deeply rooted in our physical, biological and social makeup, and understanding them throws light on many of our human foibles.
The first part of this book, "Modes of Interaction", examines these everyday physical, biological and social interactions in order to flesh out the characteristics of each mode. The second part, "Modes of Meaning", shows how these modes of patterning permeate the meaning we find in our world, which in turn has implications for an understanding of consciousness. The third part, "Modes of Spirituality", explores for spiritual possibilities that accord with these modes. Lastly, "Changing the Paradigm" considers how a recognition of these modes can alter our approach to spirituality and provide valuable signposts for our psychedelic journeys.
A brief biographical note to allay suspicions about my motives: I grew
up orthodox Jewish and as a teenager in the 1960's was groomed for the
rabbinate. On leaving school I chose to study physics and maths at
university where I embraced atheism instead. In the 1970's a chance
encounter with psychedelics rekindled the spiritual interest, this time
in the direct experience of spirituality rather than the following of any religion. Attempts to reconcile the psychedelic experience with my everyday perceptions have occupied my attention
ever since. This book is such an attempt. My aim is not to convince sceptics of the reality of spirituality - only a direct experience can do that - but to offer those so mystified a framework for their experience. I have also published a more intuitive work called the "Oracle of Love" ## based on the Daoist I Ching.
Though I did not follow a career as a physicist (I earned my living in computer software) my study of physics significantly coloured the way I see the world and you may find the focus on physics a bit wearying. Part I of the book can be especially dry but the disclosure at its end is rewarding. The physics is elementary and hopefully accessible to everyone. Occasional statements that are beyond your reach may be bypassed without losing the overall gist. On the other hand, I have stated the ideas much too simply in order to convey them as directly as possible and to as wide an audience as possible. Physicists please be forbearing - my intention is not to change the way we think about physics but the way we approach spirituality. The physics is mainstream and classical, only the perspective a little unusual so as to illustrate my thesis. Cognitive scientists may be more justifiably aggrieved by my naive speculations on consciousness. This is a speculative work, not an attempt to prove anything.
The book is not long. It prints to about 200 pages but it can be dense and awkward for I am not a skilled writer. Appreciate too that I am grappling with unusual ideas and have probably made mistakes along the way. Suggestions are welcome - there's an email address on the cover page. My hope is that you will emerge from this adventure with a very different idea of what spirituality can be and a very different approach to the psychedelic landscape.